Dietitian's Meal Plan Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

Feb 28, 2020 2:09:34 PM

Written By:
Paula Redondo

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When you want to eat healthy but stay within a budget, meal planning can help you prepare nutritious meals from all of the food groups – without exhausting your finances.

When you eat intuitively, you can allow yourself to enjoy guilty-pleasure foods from time to time. As long as you’re regularly incorporating the right vitamins and nutrients into your diet, you don’t have to give up treats! Meal planning makes it easy to create a healthy, structured diet for you and your family.

First, let’s look at what a healthy diet should look like.

What Does a Healthy Diet Consist Of?

To maintain a healthy diet, dietitians recommend “eating the rainbow”: choosing fruits and vegetables of all colors, so you get the different vitamins and minerals offered by each. Dietitians also advise limiting saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars – particularly sugar-sweetened beverages, like juice, soda, or flavored milk – and sodium, although there’s a time and place for everything.

While there are differences in dietary needs between males and females – for example, men typically need more calories and macronutrients, and women tend to have greater micronutrient needs – the Dietary Guidelines apply to all genders. The primary difference in these guidelines is the recommended amounts for adults versus children.

Based off an approximate 2,000 kcal/day (+/- 100-200) diet, the average adult should be taking in:

  • <10% of kcal from added sugars
  • <10% of kcal from saturated fats
  • <2,300mg of sodium
  • 45-65% of daily kcal from carbohydrates
  • 10-35% of daily kcal from protein
  • 20-35% of daily kcal from total fat

Based on a 1,000-1,600 kcal/day diet, depending on gender and age (needs will be higher for toddlers aged 1-3 years), the average child should be taking in:

  • <10% of kcal from added sugars
  • <10% of kcal from saturated fats
  • <1,500mg of sodium for 1-3 y/o; <1,900mg for older kids
  • 45-65% of daily kcal from carbohydrates
  • 5-20% of daily kcal from protein for 1-3 y/o; 10-30% for older kids
  • 30-40% of daily kcal from total fat for 1-3 y/o; 25-35% for older kids

Dietitians also recommend engaging in physical exercise for 150 minutes per week, or 30 minutes five days a week. You can break this routine down even further into 3-10-minute chunks per day, and you will reap the same benefits.

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Are Meal Plans Ideal?

Meal plans can be beneficial to maintaining or jumpstarting a healthy lifestyle. When we don’t plan out our meals, we tend to grab whatever we have lying around the house or resort to quick meals like fast food or frozen entrees.

By taking the time to plan out your meals for the week, you can ensure all the major food groups are in your diet – including a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables – to meet your macro- and micronutrient needs.

If meal planning seems daunting, it can help to reach out to a registered dietitian for guidance on how to get started.

Meal Plan Tips

When planning out your family’s meals, it’s essential to make sure everyone’s getting the nutrients they need. For children, it’s best to have their basic nutrition at the top of your list. To create and manage an effective meal plan for the whole family, here are five meal planning tips:

1. Don’t Overwhelm Yourself

Work your meal plan around your schedule, not the other way around. You don’t have to prepare fancy meals every day. You can effortlessly put together nutritious – and delicious! – meals in the slow cooker that will feed everyone for two or three days.

2. Take a Grocery Store Tour

Many major chains, like King Soopers, have a dietitian on staff who can lead you on a grocery store tour, or you can look for private practice dietitians in your area. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll learn about meal planning and budgeting just by learning how to grocery shop efficiently.

3. Meal Plan On an Off Day

When you don’t have to work or have some free time on your hands, dedicate a couple of hours to meal planning and prep. Doing so will save you a lot of time and energy during your busy days.

4. Take a Weekly Inventory of Your Fridge

Are there any meats, vegetables, or other ingredients that are going to expire soon? Find recipes utilizing those foods so they won’t go to waste, like a simple casserole.

5. Whatever You’re Making, Make Extra

Take out a few portions, package and date them, and stick them in the freezer for easy meals to incorporate into one of your weeks.


It’s important to remember that dietary guidelines are just that: guidelines. There is a time and place for everything, even foods that may not be the most nutritious. Intuitive eating is key to following a healthy lifestyle, and meal planning allows you to meet your nutritional needs while also working the occasional treat into your diet. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, registered dietitians are trained in the art of meal planning and can help you get started.

By Paula Redondo

Weight Management Support


*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.